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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Talk about being in the right place at the right time. If Gary Wolter in 1961 hadn’t been in a post office in Pensacola, Fla. which was next to Pen Air FCU, scanning the help wanted bulletin board for civil service job openings at the same time that David White, the federal credit union examiner for the Pensacola area came out, and if the two hadn’t got to talking about a job opening at Pen Air FCU, Wolter probably wouldn’t have wound up spending the next 41 years working in the credit union movement, 40 of which were spent with the Alabama Credit Union League. But Wolter did meet with then-Pen Air President Jerry Anders about the position and was hired by Anders as a loan officer. The rest, as they say, is history. Wolter admits he didn’t know anything about credit unions when he was hired by Pen Air and even less about credit union leagues, but working for Pen Air for the next year taught him a lot. Enough, in fact that he was hired by Bill Smith, then-managing director of the Alabama Credit Union League as a field representative. Among Wolter’s responsibilities was organizing credit unions in the state, training volunteers to operate a cooperative institution, helping credit unions balance their books and figure their insurance premiums. “The problems credit unions dealt with then would be considered rudimentary by today’s standards,” said Wolter. “I got in the car every morning and visited five or six credit unions a day,” he recalled. Field reps were given monthly quotas they had to meet for the number of new credit unions they formed. Wolter typically organized one credit union a month. “The league did a lot of hand holding back then”, said Wolter. He recalled that at the League’s zenith, it had close to 500 affiliated CUs (now it has 188). What about CU services? Mostly share accounts and signature loans, he said. “Auto loans were considered exotic then,” he said. Credit unions have definitely “grown up” since those days, says Wolter. For one thing they’re larger – Redstone CU in Huntsville was the largest credit union in the state in the mid-1960′s with $8 million in assets. Redstone is still the largest CU in Alabama, except it now has $1.2 billion in assets. They’re also more professionally operated, offer more complex services, and have to comply with a larger set of laws and regulations. Again Wolter reminisces – he remembers the seminars the Alabama League held to help credit unions comply with the requirement of completing 1099 forms on dividends. He recalls the concern some regulators had when CUs began converting to open end credit, that the practice would create huge delinquencies and result in liquidations. “Now these services are considered basics,” said Wolter. “It’s funny how years ago we had a lot of battles with regulators over providing them.” Wolter’s four-decade old career with the Alabama League – in May the League honored his 40 years of service at a special dinner – may have started as a field representative, but he quickly moved in to other positions. First to director of education and then in October 1966, Wolter was named managing director/CEO. The title has since changed to president/CEO, and he continues in that position today. By his own admission Wolter is a doer, and nowhere is this more evident than in his involvement with the state and federal legislative and regulatory processes and his staunch position on the critical importance of credit unions being involved in legislative affairs. “Credit unions are creatures of legislation. The most important things credit unions have are their charter and their ability under the law, be it federal or state, to operate. Lobbying is something that has to be done everyday,” Wolter stresses. Wolter was instrumental in the creation and formation of the Credit Union Legislative Action Council (CULAC) and also served as its first treasurer. In addition, he helped form the Alabama Credit Union Legislative Action Council (ACULAC), which has contributed for more than 25 years towards state and national political advancements. Alabama credit unions typically participate in four Hike the Hill events a year, and Wolter pointed out that this was a practice Alabama CUs were involved with even before the passage of H.R. 1151. There have also been several members of credit union boards around the state who have also served in the state legislature. Wolter further noted that Alabama is one of a handful of states that have an independent position for the supervision and regulation of credit unions. In addition to his responsibilities with the Alabama League, Wolter has been chairman of U.S. Central and the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL) – formerly known as the Association of Credit Union League Executives (ACULE). Wolter was also recently reelected to his third term on the CUNA Board. Serving on the CUNA Board for nine years has given Wolter a unique perspective on the maturation of the credit union movement. He was on both the Renewal Committee and more recently, the Renaissance Commission. He described Renewal as, “A stressful time. There was a real need for CUNA to be introspective and look at its structure to make sure it was inclusive of all credit unions. We did what was right and needed to be done, and the credit union movement is stronger and more united because of the work we did.” As for the Renaissance Commission and the flak that CUNA took for releasing the commission’s report to some members of Congress before CUNA’s Government Affairs Committee had a chance to review it, Wolter defended the commission’s work. “Anytime you have a think tank group like Renaissance it will create controversy. But at the end of the day, the reality of the entire process becomes evident. The result was some very strong recommendations.” As if Wolter’s involvement with the U.S. credit union wasn’t enough, he’s also been involved with the international CU movement by working as a consultant for the World Council of Credit Unions to the Association of British credit unions. Wolter said he’s always been interested in international activities and speculated that it hearkens back to the days he worked in a training center for the Peace Corps. Wolter is pleased with the course the Alabama League is on. But admittedly there are things he said he would have done better if he had the chance to revisit them. For one thing, Wolter would have liked to have been more successful at having credit unions realize the importance of getting involved. “I don’t think credit union CEOs think advocacy is part of their responsibility. They’re so wrapped up in their day-to-day activities that the only time they get involved is when there’s a crisis,” he said. About the only thing Wolter said he hasn’t had enough time to perfect is his golf game. He said he doesn’t get to play as often as he’d like to. But he always finds time to visit with his four grandchildren who live nearby him and also to get away once in awhile to his condominium on Alabama’s Gulf of Mexico. For the time being at least, Wolter will have to be satisfied participating in those activities when time permits. He said he has no immediate plans to retire. When that time comes though he liked to be remembered “as someone who had vision, worked hard, was a risk taker and hated to lose.” His associates would probably agree with his self-assessment. -

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